Mexican trucks deliver in Missouri
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Mexican trucks deliver in Missouri

Date: September 19, 2007
By: Sarah D. Wire
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - As of this month, that truck you pass on Interstate 70 could be a Mexican or Canadian vehicle.  And the new North American trucking system is generating arguments about safety from the union for American truckers.

Effective Sept. 6,  Mexican and Canadian truckers were given expanded rights to travel through the U.S. as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

While there is no estimate of how many foreign trucks will be rolling through Missouri, nationally around 500 trucks will be entering the country at any given time.

Teamsters claim the incoming trucks are unsafe and say Mexican drivers use illicit substances to stay awake on the road. But The U.S. Transportation Department says there is a lot of  misinformation circling about the program.

Because of the number of trucks on Interstate 70 and Interstate 44, which crosses the southern portion of the state, Missouri is a major trucking route through the county. 

Deanne Bonnot, spokesperson for the Missouri Transportation Department, said the agreement is a part of NAFTA and the industry has had 12 years to prepare.

"It's not a big surprise," Bonnot said. "We feel like we're ready."

Melissa Delaney, spokesperson for the U.S. Transportation Department, said many people assume the Mexican trucks will be unsafe and don't know about the strict safety standards the companies will have to meet.

Delaney said that any truck coming into the U.S. will have to meet the same standards as U.S. trucks

"In fact, they have to prove a lot more on the front end before they can enter the country," Delaney said.

Delaney said all incoming trucks will go through a 39-point inspection and will be inspected at the border like any other vehicle. Drivers will have to speak English, have a valid drivers license and be insured.

The NAFTA agreement will allow 100 companies each from Mexico, Canada and the U.S. to transport goods across borders.

Delaney called the previous system "terribly inefficient" because trucks were driven to Texas, unloaded, waited a few days, reloaded and the taken into Mexico.

"To ship from Missouri would take three trips, three drivers," Delaney said. "You can imagine what that adds to the cost."

Delaney said an estimated 500 trucks will be coming to the U.S. from Mexico.

"Compared to how many are on the road, you'll have to look pretty hard to see those vehicles," Delaney said.

In 2005, there were 20,300 trucks on I-70 or I-44 each day Bonnot said quote the most recent estimate.

Mexican trucks will be required to stop at all Missouri weigh stations and will go through the same inspection procedures as American trucks said State Highway Patrol Spokesman Neal Mager said.

"They'll be subject to laws just like everyone else," he said.

Leslie Miller, spokesperson for The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said her organization doesn't trust the U.S. Department of Transportation because they have been receiving conflicting descriptions of how safety inspections will be conducted.

"The whole point of  a pilot program is to see if Mexican trucks are safe, so you just take 500 of the best trucks and put them on the road and after a year the border opens to everyone," Miller said. "And that's what we're concerned about."

The Teamsters have been fighting the agreement for months claiming the plan is dangerous, illegal and a threat to national security.

Miller said she has spoken with U.S. drivers near the Mexican border who are concerned with Mexican drivers taking illicit drugs to stay awake for extensive periods of time and who drive unsafe trucks.

"Bottom line is we don't think its safe," Miller said.

According to a report released by the Federal Register, Mexican drivers will undergo drug and alcohol testing when crossing borders and making deliveries.

Mexican trucks have been allowed to operate within a 25-mile zone along the border since 1982 but on Sept. 6 the U.S. Transportation Department granted permission to Transportes Olympic to haul cargo within the U.S.

Mexico granted authority to an El Paso-based distribution company.

On Sept. 11, Congress approved a measure to halt funding for the program. The program is strongly backed by President George W. Bush.